A $30 million libel lawsuit against two Toronto city councilors and several Catholic school board administrators over an LGBTQ2S+ service for students has been overturned by the Ontario Superior Court.
Joseph Volpe, publisher of Corriere Canadese, an Italian-Canadian newspaper, sued former councilwoman Kristyn Wong-Tam and Coun. Paul Ainslie after persuading the council to stop advertising in the newspaper, on the grounds that he had published articles they described as ‘homophobic and transphobic’.
Volpe’s lawsuit also named Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees Maria Rizzo, Ida Li Preti, Norman Di Pasquale and Markus de Domenico.
The dispute centered on a link on the TCDSB website to LGBT Youthline, which provided further links to resources, peer support and referrals.
According to the judgment, Wong-Tam brought the board motion after a series of articles in the newspaper described the administrators who supported the Youthline link as: “virtue signaling thugs”, a “rat pack”, “terrorists ‘ and ‘buffoons’ and the website itself as ‘pornographic’ and ‘coalman’.
Volpe sued following several tweets posted by Wong-Tam and a virtual YouTube press conference of Wong-Tam, Ainslie, Rizzo and Di Pasquale held on March 9, 2021, also in support of the query.
“During comments, counsel and defendant trustee said Volpe and Corriere were homophobic, transphobic and anti-LGBTQ2S+,” according to the judgment.
Some of the articles were written by Volpe and others by newspaper staff, according to Volpe’s attorney Paul Slansky.
While Judge Benjamin Glustein ruled that Volpe’s defamation claim had “substantial merit”, he also found that the comments were related to a matter of public interest; that there was no evidence of malice and that the councilors acted in good faith in carrying out their duties.
The judge ruled that the lawsuit amounted to an attempt to prevent officials from speaking out on a matter of public interest, also known as a strategic public participation lawsuit (SLAPP).
In a statement to The Star, Wong-Tam said she was happy with the decision.
“(SLAPPs) are lawsuits used by wealthy corporations and individuals to silence public critics – forcing them into costly legal battles until they cease their objections and criticisms,” Wong-Tam said. .
“This decision is a definitive vindication of the anti-SLAPP legislation and vindication of my fair and reasonable comments.”
Slansky said an appeal has been filed.
In the appeal, Slansky argues that while the Corriere Canadese articles criticized the administrators for undermining the Roman Catholic faith, they did not attack LGBTQ+ rights, people, or communities.
Rather, the criticisms were that the website, accessible to elementary school students as well as teenagers, provided links to other sites, which included sexually explicit material.
“No acknowledgment was made that the criticism of (Corriere Canadese) and Volpe was focused on sexual content or that it was not based on any LGBTQ+ issues,” according to the appeal documents.
The appeal was filed on the grounds that the judge failed to address the constitutional issues raised by the suit and misrepresented the evidence in his judgment, among other issues.
“Judge Glustein’s decision is very well written and difficult to refute on legal grounds,” Wong-Tam said. “I am cautiously optimistic that the appeal will be dismissed.”
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